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A Saudi official’s harrowing account of torture reveals the regime’s brutality

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David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post:

Held captive by Saudi agents, Salem Almuzaini, once an official of the regime, was beaten repeatedly on the soles of his feet, his back and his genitals, according to a harrowing account of his torture and captivity filed in a Canadian court. He says he was whipped, starved, battered with iron bars and electrocuted; he also describes being ordered to crawl on all fours and bark like a dog. Accompanying his report are graphic photos of Almuzaini’s extensive scars from injuries he said were inflicted by operatives of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

As set out in the court papers, Almuzaini was first seized in Dubai on Sept. 26, 2017, by United Arab Emirates security officials and sent to the kingdom; he vanished on Aug. 24, 2020, after visiting a senior Saudi state security official, and has not been seen since. His description of his treatment in the intervening years — at two Saudi prisons, and at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, where suspected opponents of the regime were detained in 2017 — offers a horrifying view of the lengths to which the regime under the crown prince, known as MBS, has gone to punish its perceived enemies.

His narrative, translated from Arabic and filed in June in an Ontario court, was sent via text message to the cellphone of his wife, Hissah, in September 2019, according to her family, with instructions that she release it if he were to disappear again. The chilling description, reminiscent of memoirs of suffering by political prisoners in Iran, Chile, South Africa and the Soviet Union, offers the most extensive personal account to date of the alleged brutal conduct of the Saudi regime.

“The days passed, and I continued to fear hearing the keys and the door opening,” Almuzaini writes at one point. “I didn’t know what was in store for me, whether torture or elimination.” He describes how one interrogator ordered him to kiss his shoe, then struck his head. “The sad irony is that there was no other agency I had helped more than the Mabahith and Special Affairs, and now I was under their arrest and subject to their torture,” Almuzaini writes of the Saudi secret police.

The degree of psychological torture and attempted dehumanization that Almuzaini describes is as horrifying as the physical abuse. At one point, his interrogator told him to reach into a box and choose a whip for his next beating; when he hesitated, the interrogator chose one and used it to lash Almuzaini while urinating. Almuzaini was instructed not to say his name, and instead refer to himself as “9,” At another point, he was ordered to eat his dinner off the floor, like a dog.

“I was beset with worry on all sides,” Almuzaini recounts. “I worried for my mother, wife, children, sisters, uncle, companies, employees, my future, the pain in my body, the humiliation, and the fear. In reality, feelings cannot describe it. All I’ll say is that the injustice and repression of mankind were intense. I felt weak and powerless.”

The Saudi Embassy in Washington, informed about the allegations of torture by Almuzaini and his wife, declined to comment, as did the embassy of the UAE.

Almuzaini, a graduate of the Saudi police academy, joined the Interior Ministry and supervised airline projects for Mohammed bin Nayef, who was then in charge of the ministry’s counterterrorism projects and later interior minister and crown prince. According to Almuzaini’s account, when MBN decided to create a private airline company called Alpha Star Aviation Services, he asked Almuzaini to run it. Later, when MBN formed his own commercial private airline company, Sky Prime Aviation, he asked Almuzaini to oversee it in Dubai.

Lawyers for Saad Aljabri, a former Saudi intelligence official, have argued in legal documents that these air operations were initially created to shield Saudi and U.S. covert intelligence operations against terrorist groups.

Almuzaini’s alleged crime, judging from the questions he says he was asked by his torturers, was that he aided in a plot to skim money from the two airlines — something he says he denied throughout the torture sessions. Aljabri has similarly denied any involvement in misusing funds. Companies controlled by the Saudi government have sued Aljabri in Canada, where he now lives, to recover money they claim he stole.

But Almuzaini’s real offense, as outlined in the court documents, may have been that he married Hissah, the daughter of Aljabri. MBS, a rival of MBN, has been pursuing Aljabri since 2017, when he deposed MBN as crown prince and Aljabri fled the kingdom. MBS has been trying to force him to return to the kingdom since then.

Almuzaini’s wife described one gruesome moment that her husband had confided. “He said that once, before he was struck a hundred times without pause, he was told ‘this is on behalf of Saad Aljabri,’ and ‘this is what you get for marrying his daughter,’” she wrote. “Sometimes, the interrogators told Salem while beating him that ‘we are adding extra lashes and beatings because your father-in-law is not here, so you can take his portion.’”

The Almuzaini affidavit was filed to support Aljabri’s claim that, as his lawyers argue in a recent court filing, MBS has “sought to consolidate his power by persecuting his perceived rivals under the guise of an ‘anti-corruption’ campaign” and that payments to Aljabri “were fully authorized and approved” by MBN and other Saudi authorities.

The alleged treatment of Almuzaini is just one example of MBS’s seeming obsession with Aljabri’s family. The crown prince blocked two of Aljabri’s then-teenage children, Omar and Sarah, from leaving the country in 2017, when he began his internal putsch to consolidate power and has used them as seeming hostages to try to force their father to return to the kingdom. Omar and Sarah are now imprisoned. I described their plight in The Post in June 2020, and it was featured in a recent report by Human Rights Watch. Aljabri’s friends, relatives and business associates have also been detained.

After Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Istanbul in October 2018 on what the CIA says were the orders of MBS, Almuzaini had a flash of recognition. He told his wife that the people who were interrogating him included Maher Mutreb, publicly identified as the leader of the Istanbul hit team, and seven of its other members, according to his wife’s affidavit. Among those present during his torture was MBS’s close assistant, Saud al-Qahtani, the affidavit alleges.

In a bizarre irony, two planes owned by Sky Prime, the airline Almuzaini helped run for MBN, were used to transport to Istanbul the hit team that killed Khashoggi, after MBS had appropriated the company, according to court documents filed by Aljabri’s lawyers.

When Almuzaini was held at the Ritz-Carlton for about six weeks starting in late 2017, the torture stopped, according to his wife’s affidavit. The shakedown was now about getting money — as was the case with about 400 other prominent Saudis, including princes and global financiers, who were rounded up at the Ritz-Carlton in November 2017 and forced by MBS’s operatives to hand over assets.

“We’re going to take all of your money,” Almuzaini writes that he was told at the Ritz-Carlton. “We don’t recognize the contracts or any of your nonsense. We’re going to return the money to the state.” He eventually agreed to sign over 400 million Saudi riyals, about $106 million at current exchange rates.

Almuzaini wrote . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2021 at 3:59 pm

Some members of Congress are going to pay the piper — or at least their lawyers

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Heather Cox Richardson:

The ripples of the explosive testimony of the four police officers Tuesday before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol continue to spread. Committee members are meeting this week to decide how they will proceed. Congress goes on recess during August, but committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) suggested the committee would, in fact, continue to meet during that break.

Committee members are considering subpoenas to compel the testimony of certain lawmakers, especially since the Department of Justice on Tuesday announced that it would not assert executive privilege to stop members of the Trump administration from testifying to Congress about Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection. This is a change from the Trump years, when the Department of Justice refused to acknowledge Congress’s authority to investigate the executive branch. This new directive reasserts the traditional boundaries between the two branches, saying that Congress can require testimony and administration officials can give it.

Further, the Department of Justice yesterday rejected the idea that it should defend Congress members involved in the January 6 insurrection. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) sued Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, as well as the former president and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, for lying about the election, inciting a mob, and inflicting pain and distress.

Famously, Brooks participated in the rally before the insurrection, telling the audience: “[W]e are not going to let the Socialists rip the heart out of our country. We are not going to let them continue to corrupt our elections, and steal from us our God-given right to control our nation’s destiny.” “Today,” he said, “Republican Senators and Congressmen will either vote to turn America into a godless, amoral, dictatorial, oppressed, and socialist nation on the decline or they will join us and they will fight and vote against voter fraud and election theft, and vote for keeping America great.”

“[T]oday is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!” he said. He asked them if they were willing to give their lives to preserve “an America that is the greatest nation in world history.” “Will you fight for America?” he asked.

To evade the lawsuit, Brooks gave an affidavit in which he and his lawyers insisted that this language was solely a campaign speech, urging voters to support Republican lawmakers in 2022 and 2024. But he also argued that the Department of Justice had to represent him in the lawsuit because he was acting in his role as a congress member that day, representing his constituents.

Yesterday, the Department of Justice declined to take over the case, pointing out that campaign and electioneering activities fall outside the scope of official employment. It goes on to undercut the idea of protecting any lawmaker who participated in the insurrection, saying that “alleged action to attack Congress and disrupt its official functions is not conduct a Member of Congress is employed to perform.” This means Brooks is on his own to defend himself from the Swalwell lawsuit. It also means that lawmakers intending to fight subpoenas are going to be paying for their own legal representation.

If the committee does, in fact, start demanding that lawmakers talk, Brooks is likely on the list of those from whom they will want to hear. Trying to bolster the new Republican talking point that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) should have been better prepared for the insurrection (this is a diversion: she has no say over the Capitol Police, and she did, in fact, call for law enforcement on January 6), Brooks told Slate political reporter Jim Newell that he, Brooks, knew something was up. He had been warned “on Monday that there might be risks associated with the next few days,” he said. “And as a consequence of those warnings, I did not go to my condo. Instead, I slept on the floor of my office. And when I gave my speech at the Ellipse, I was wearing body armor.” “That’s why I was wearing that nice little windbreaker,” he told Newell. “To cover up the body armor.”

Brooks is not the only one in danger of receiving a subpoena. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) admitted on the Fox News Channel that he spoke to the former president on January 6, although he claimed not to remember whether it was before, during, or after the insurrection. He tried to suggest that chatting with Trump on January 6 was no different than chatting with him at any other time, but that is unlikely to fly. Jordan also repeatedly referred to Trump as “the president,” rather than the former president, a dog whistle to those who continue to insist that Trump did not, in fact, lose the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, it looks more and more like Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), are  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2021 at 9:52 pm

The testimony from the police who stood against the insurrectionists

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Heather Cox Richardson:

This morning, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol began its hearings with testimony from two Capitol Police officers and two Metropolitan Police officers.

After Representatives Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Liz Cheney (R-WY) opened the hearing, Sergeant Aquilino Gonell and and Officer Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police, and Officer Michael Fanone and Officer Daniel Hodges of the Metropolitan Police, recounted hand-to-hand combat against rioters who were looking to stop the election of Democrat Joe Biden and kill elected officials whom they thought were standing in the way of Trump’s reelection. They gouged eyes, sprayed chemicals, shouted the n-word, and told the officers they were going to die. They said: “Trump sent us.”

Lawmakers questioning the officers had them walk the members through horrific video footage taken from the officers’ body cameras. The officers said that one of the hardest parts of the insurrection for them was hearing the very people whose lives they had defended deny the horror of that day. They called the rioters terrorists who were engaged in a coup attempt, and called the indifference of lawmakers to those who had protected them “disgraceful.” “I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room,” Fanone said. “But too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist, or that hell wasn’t actually that bad.”

The officers indicated they thought that Trump was responsible for the riot. When asked if Trump was correct that it was “a loving crowd,” Gonell responded: “To me, it’s insulting, just demoralizing because of everything that we did to prevent everyone in the Capitol from getting hurt…. And what he was doing, instead of sending the military, instead of sending the support or telling his people, his supporters, to stop this nonsense, he begged them to continue fighting.” The officers asked the committee to make sure it did a thorough investigation. “There was an attack carried out on January 6, and a hit man sent them,” Dunn testified. “I want you to get to the bottom of that.”

The Republicans on the committee, Representatives Adam Kinzinger (IL) and Liz Cheney (WY) pushed back on Republican claims that the committee is partisan.

“Like most Americans, I’m frustrated that six months after a deadly insurrection breached the United States Capitol for several hours on live television, we still don’t know exactly what happened,” Kinzinger said. “Why? Because many in my party have treated this as just another partisan fight. It’s toxic and it’s a disservice to the officers and their families, to the staff and the employees in the Capitol complex, to the American people who deserve the truth, and to those generations before us who went to war to defend self-governance.”

Kinzinger rejected the Republican argument that the committee should investigate the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020, saying that he had been concerned about those protests but they were entirely different from the events of January 6: they did not threaten democracy. “There is a difference between breaking the law and rejecting the rule of law,” Kinzinger observed. (Research shows that more than 96% of the BLM protests had no violence or property damage.)

The officers and lawmakers both spoke eloquently of their determination to defend democracy. Sergeant Gonell, a U.S. Army veteran of the Iraq War who emigrated from the Dominican Republic, said: “As an immigrant to the United States, I am especially proud to have defended the U.S. Constitution and our democracy on January 6.” Adam Schiff (D-CA) added: “If we’re no longer committed to a peaceful transfer of power after elections if our side doesn’t win, then God help us. If we deem elections illegitimate merely because they didn’t go our way rather than trying to do better the next time, then God help us.”

Cheney said: “Until January 6th, we were proof positive for the world that a nation conceived in liberty could long endure. But now, January 6th threatens our most sacred legacy. The question for every one of us who serves in Congress, for every elected official across this great nation, indeed, for every American is this: Will we adhere to the rule of law? Will we respect the rulings of our courts? Will we preserve the peaceful transition of power? Or will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America? Do we hate our political adversaries more than we love our country and revere our Constitution?”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) both said they had been too busy to watch the hearing. But the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune of South Dakota, called the officers heroes and said: “We should listen to what they have to say.”

Republicans are somewhat desperately trying to change the subject in such a way that it will hurt Democrats. Shortly before the hearing started, McCarthy House Republican conference chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who was elected to that position after the conference tossed Liz Cheney for her refusal to support Trump after the insurrection; and Jim Banks (R-IN), whom McCarthy tried to put on the committee and who promised to undermine it, held a press conference. They tried to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for the attack on the Capitol, a right-wing talking point, although she, in fact, has no control over the Capitol Police.

Shortly after the hearing ended, some of the House’s key Trump supporters—Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Bob Good (R-VA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)—tried to hold a press conference in front of the Department of Justice, where they promised to complain about those arrested for their role in the January 6 insurrection, calling them “political prisoners.” The conference fell apart when protesters called Gaetz a pedophile (he is under investigation for sex trafficking a girl), and blew a whistle to drown the Republican lawmakers out.

This story is not going away, not only because the events of January 6 were a deadly attack on our democracy that almost succeeded and we want to know how and why that came to pass, but also because those testifying before the committee are under oath.

Since the 1950s, when Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI) pioneered constructing a false narrative to attract voters, the Movement Conservative faction of the Republican Party focused not on fact-based arguments but on emotionally powerful fiction. There are no punishments for lying in front of television cameras in America, and from Ronald Reagan’s Welfare Queen to Rush Limbaugh’s “Feminazis” to the Fox News Channel personalities’ warnings about dangerous Democrats to Rudy Giuliani’s “witnesses” to “voter fraud” in the 2020 election, Republicans advanced fictions and howled about the “liberal media” when they were fact-checked. By the time of the impeachment hearings for former president Trump, Republican lawmakers like Jim Jordan (R-OH) didn’t even pretend to care about facts but instead yelled and badgered to get clips that could be arranged into a fictional narrative on right-wing media.

Now, though, the Movement Conservative narrative that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2021 at 9:55 am

Some clips from police testimony on the January 7 insurrection

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Watch not only this clip, but click the date of the tweet and read the thread.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 4:56 pm

Facing Years in Prison for Drone Leak, Daniel Hale Makes His Case Against U.s. Assassination Program

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This article by Ryan Devereaux in The Intercept is a must-read:

THE MISSILES THAT killed Salim bin Ahmed Ali Jaber and Walid bin Ali Jaber came in the night. Salim was a respected imam in the village of Khashamir, in southeastern Yemen, who had made a name for himself denouncing the rising power of Al Qaeda’s franchise in the Arabian Peninsula. His cousin Walid was a local police officer. It was August 21, 2012, and the pair were standing in a palm grove, confronting a trio of suspected militants, when the Hellfires made impact.

The deaths of the two men sparked protests in the days that followed, symbolizing for many Yemenis the human cost of U.S. counterterrorism operations in their country. Thousands of miles away, at the U.S. military’s base in Bagram, Afghanistan, Daniel Hale, a young intelligence specialist in the U.S. Air Force, watched the missiles land. One year later, Hale found himself sitting on a Washington, D.C., panel, listening as Salim’s brother, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, recalled the day Salim was killed.

As Fazil recounted what happened next, I felt myself transported back in time to where I had been on that day, 2012. Unbeknownst to Fazil and those of his village at the time was that they had not been the only ones watching Salem approach the jihadist in the car. From Afghanistan, I and everyone on duty paused their work to witness the carnage that was about to unfold. At the press of a button, from thousands of miles away, two Hellfire missiles screeched out of the sky, followed by two more. Showing no signs of remorse, I, and those around me, clapped and cheered triumphantly. In front of a speechless auditorium, Fazil wept.

Hale recalled the emotional moment and others stemming from his work on the U.S. government’s top-secret drone program in an 11-page, handwritten letter filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia this week.

Secret Evidence

Hale was indicted by a grand jury and arrested in 2019 on a series of counts related to the unauthorized disclosure of national defense and intelligence information and the theft of government property. In March, the 33-year-old pleaded guilty to leaking a trove of unclassified, secret, and top-secret documents to a news organization, which government filings strongly implied was The Intercept. His sentencing is scheduled for next week.

The Intercept “does not comment on matters relating to the identity of anonymous sources,” Intercept Editor-in-Chief Betsy Reed said at the time of Hale’s indictment. “These documents detailed a secret, unaccountable process for targeting and killing people around the world, including U.S. citizens, through drone strikes,” Reed noted. “They are of vital public importance, and activity related to their disclosure is protected by the First Amendment.”

Federal prosecutors are urging Judge Liam O’Grady to issue a maximum sentence, up to 11 years in prison, arguing that Hale has shown insufficient remorse for his actions, that his disclosures were motivated by vanity and not in the public interest, and that they aided the United States’ enemies abroad — namely the Islamic State.

“These documents contained specific details that adversaries could use to hamper and defeat actions of the U.S. military and the U.S. intelligence community,” the government claimed. “Indeed, they were of sufficient interest to ISIS for that terrorist organization to further distribute two of those documents in a guidebook for its followers.”

Prosecutors have acknowledged, however, that Hale’s sentencing was “in an unusual posture” because the probation officer in the case, who makes recommendations to the court, “has not seen some of the key facts of the case,” namely those that the government says support its claim that Hale’s disclosures had the potential to cause “serious” or “exceptionally grave” harm to U.S. national security. The Intercept has not reviewed the documents in question, which remain under seal, shielded from public scrutiny.

Harry P. Cooper, a former senior official in the CIA and noted agency expert on classified materials who did review the documents, provided a declaration in Hale’s case on the potential national security threat posed by the release of the documents.

Cooper, who maintains a top-secret clearance and has trained top-level officials at the agency, including the director of the CIA, said that while some of the documents did constitute so-called national defense information, “the disclosure of these documents, at the time they were disclosed and made public, did not present any substantial risk of harm to the United States or to national security.”

Commenting on the government’s claim that Hale’s disclosures were circulated by ISIS, Cooper said, “such publication further supports my conclusions, because it suggests that the adversaries treated the documents as trophies rather than as something that would give a tactical advantage, given that publication would reduce to zero any tactical advantage that the documents might otherwise have given.”

“In short,” Cooper said, “an adversary who has gained a tactical advantage by receiving secret information would never publicize their possession of it.”

Hale was charged under the Espionage Act, a highly controversial 1917 law that has become a favored tool of federal prosecutors pursuing cases of national security leaks. The law bars the accused from using motivations such as informing the public as a defense against incarceration, and yet, Hale’s alleged personal motivations and character came up repeatedly in a sentencing memo filed this week, with prosecutors arguing that he was “enamored of journalists” and that as a result, “the most vicious terrorists in the world” obtained top-secret U.S. documents.

In their own motion filed this week, Hale’s lawyers argued that the former intelligence analyst’s motivations were self-evident — even if the government refused to recognize them. “The facts regarding Mr. Hale’s motive are clear,” they wrote. “He committed the offense to bring attention to what he believed to be immoral government conduct committed under the cloak of secrecy and contrary to public statements of then-President Obama regarding the alleged precision of the United States military’s drone program.”

Hidden Assassinations

Legal experts focused on the drone program strongly dispute the prosecution’s claim that Hale’s disclosures did not provide a significant public service. Indeed, for many experts, shedding light on a lethal program that the government had tried to keep from public scrutiny for years is vital.

“The disclosures provided important information to the American public about a killing program that has virtually no transparency or accountability, and has taken a devastating toll on civilian lives abroad in the name of national security,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, director of the Counterterrorism, Armed Conflict and Human Rights Project at Columbia Law School. “They helped reveal how some of the most harmful impacts of this program, in particular the civilian toll, were obscured and hidden.”

Thanks in large part to the government’s efforts to keep the drone program under tight secrecy, the task of calculating the human impact of the program has been left to investigative journalists and independent monitoring groups. The numbers that these groups have compiled over the years show a staggering human cost of these operations. The U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, or TBIJ, estimates the total number of deaths from drones and other covert killing operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia to run between 8,858 and 16,901 since strikes began to be carried out in 2004.

Of those killed, as many as 2,200 are believed to have been civilians, including several hundred children and multiple U.S. citizens, including a 16-year-old boy. The tallies of civilian casualties are undoubtedly an undercount of the true cost of the drone war — as Hale’s letter to the court this week and the documents he allegedly made public show, the people who are killed in American drone strikes are routinely classified as “enemies killed in action” unless proven otherwise.

Following years of pressure — and in the wake of the publication of the materials Hale is accused of leaking — the Obama administration introduced new requirements for reporting civilian casualties from covert counterterrorism operations to the public in 2016, disclosing that year that between 64 and 116 civilians were believed to have been killed in drone strikes and other lethal operations. However, the Trump administration revoked that meager disclosure requirement, leaving the public once again in the dark about who exactly is being killed and why. . .

Continue reading. There’s more and it’s important because it shows an aspect of the US that one normally associates with the baddies. Some of what the US has done — a drone strike on a wedding party, for example — are functionally equivalent to terrorism.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2021 at 4:56 pm

Watching the Watchmen: The Michigan Group Who Planned to Kidnap the Governor

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Ken Bensinger and Jessica Garrison report in Buzzfeed:

The Michigan kidnapping case is a major test for the Biden administration’s commitment to fighting domestic terrorism — and a crucible for the fierce ideological divisions pulling the country apart.

In the inky darkness of a late summer night last September, three cars filled with armed men began circling Birch Lake in northern Michigan, looking for ways to approach Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s three-bedroom vacation cottage, subdue her — using a stun gun if necessary — and drag her away.

One vehicle stopped to check out a boat launch while a second searched in vain for the right house in the thick woods ringing the lake. The third car ran countersurveillance, using night vision goggles to look out for cops and handheld radios to communicate with the others.

Earlier, they had scoped out a bridge over the Elk River, just a few miles away, scrambling down under the span to figure out where plastic explosives would need to be placed to blow it sky-high. That would slow police response, giving the men time to escape with the governor — who had infuriated them by imposing COVID lockdowns, among other outrages — and either take her to Lake Michigan, where they could abandon her on a boat, or whisk her to Wisconsin, where she would be tried as a “tyrant.”

“Everybody down with what’s going on?” an Iraq War veteran in the group demanded to know when they ended their recon mission, well past midnight, at a campsite where they were all staying.

“If you’re not down with the thought of kidnapping,” someone else replied, “don’t sit here.”

The men planned for all kinds of obstacles, but there was one they didn’t anticipate: The FBI had been listening in all along.

For six months, the Iraq War vet had been wearing a wire, gathering hundreds of hours of recordings. He wasn’t the only one. A biker who had traveled from Wisconsin to join the group was another informant. The man who’d advised them on where to put the explosives — and offered to get them as much as the task would require — was an undercover FBI agent. So was a man in one of the other cars who said little and went by the name Mark.

Just over three weeks later, federal and state agents swooped in and arrested more than a dozen men accused of participating in what a federal prosecutor called a “deeply disturbing” criminal conspiracy hatched over months in secret meetings, on encrypted chats, and in paramilitary-style training exercises. Seven of the men who had driven to Birch Lake that night would end up in jail.

The case made international headlines, with the Justice Department touting it as an example of law enforcement agencies “working together to make sure violent extremists never succeed with their plans.” Prosecutors alleged that kidnapping the governor was just the first step in what some on the right call “the Big Boog,” a long-awaited civil war that would overthrow the government and return the United States to some supposed Revolutionary War–era ideal.

The defendants, for their part, see it very differently. They say they were set up.


.
The audacious plot
 to kidnap a sitting governor — seen by many as a precursor to the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol by hundreds of Trump-supporting protesters — has become one of the most important domestic terrorism investigations in a generation.

The prosecution has already emerged as a critical test for how the Biden administration approaches the growing threat of homegrown anti-government groups. More than that, though, the case epitomizes the ideological divisions that have riven the country over the past several years. To some, the FBI’s infiltration of the innermost circle of armed anti-government groups is a model for how to successfully forestall dangerous acts of domestic terrorism. But for others, it’s an example of precisely the kind of outrageous government overreach that radicalizes people in the first place, and, increasingly, a flashpoint for deep state conspiracy theories.

The government has documented at least 12 confidential informants who assisted the sprawling investigation. The trove of evidence they helped gather provides an unprecedented view into American extremism, laying out in often stunning detail the ways that anti-government groups network with each other and, in some cases, discuss violent actions.

An examination of the case by BuzzFeed News also reveals that some of those informants, acting under the direction of the FBI, played a far larger role than has previously been reported. Working in secret, they did more than just passively observe and report on the actions of the suspects. Instead, they had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception. The extent of their involvement raises questions as to whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them.

A longtime government informant from Wisconsin, for example, helped organize a series of meetings around the country where many of the alleged plotters first met one another and the earliest notions of a plan took root, some of those people say. The Wisconsin informant even paid for some hotel rooms and food as an incentive to get people to come.

The Iraq War vet, for his part, became so deeply enmeshed in a Michigan militant group that he rose to become its second-in-command, encouraging members to collaborate with other potential suspects and paying for their transportation to meetings. He prodded the alleged mastermind of the kidnapping plot to advance his plan, then baited the trap that led to the arrest.

This account is based on an analysis of court filings, transcripts, exhibits, audio recordings, and other documents, as well as interviews with more than two dozen people with direct knowledge of the case, including several who were present at meetings and training sessions where prosecutors say the plot was hatched. All but one of the 14 original defendants have pleaded not guilty, and they vigorously deny that they were involved in a conspiracy to kidnap anyone. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

21 July 2021 at 12:58 pm

On a Single Day in May, Israeli Settlers and Soldiers Cooperated in Attacks That Left Four Palestinians Dead

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Yuval Abraham reports in The Intercept:

NIDAL SAFADI WAS a quiet man, his neighbors said. He lived in Urif, a Palestinian village of several thousand people in the West Bank. Just 25, Safadi had three children with his wife and a fourth, a girl, on the way.

Urif is not always quiet. With the Palestinian city of Nablus less than 10 miles away, the occupying Israeli military established a base on a nearby hilltop in 1983. A year later, it was turned over to civilian purposes: part of Israel’s illegal settlement program in the Palestinian territories. Since 2000, the settlement, called Yitzhar, has been home to a yeshiva known for its hard-line Jewish nationalist views; the settlement become known for its extremism. The so-called outpost settlements it has spurred — illegal even by Israeli law, but nonetheless defended by the Israel Defense Forces — have gradually encroached on villages like Urif. Over the past 10 years, settler aggressions have given rise to violent recriminations between the Israelis and Palestinians living nearby.

On May 14, though, Urif was calm — unlike much of the West Bank. In dozens of places around the territory, Palestinians protested against recent Israeli provocations: police storming Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque compound and heavy bombardment, in response to Hamas rocket fire, of the Gaza Strip.

“There were many protests in the area, but Urif was quiet,” said Mazen Shehadeh, head of the village council. “It is a small village and the residents stayed indoors. Had the settlers not arrived to attack the houses, nothing would have happened.”

Shehadeh said a group of settlers arrived at about 2 p.m., along with six soldiers, and began wreaking havoc. “The settlers uprooted almost 60 fig and olive trees,” he said. “Then they attacked the school with stones and broke its solar panels.” The damage was still evident when I visited a month after the attack. “While the settlers did all of that, the soldiers covered for them by gunfire,” Shehadeh continued. “The soldiers led, gave orders, everything looked coordinated. The soldiers pointed for the settlers, where to go, where to uproot, and then they shot at anybody who tried to get close. After a few minutes, residents came to protect the village.”

One of the villagers who arrived was Nidal Safadi. “Nidal arrived at the school terrified,” said his brother, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution. “We have relatives who live nearby, and the mosque’s loudspeaker announced that the settlers were attacking, so he ran.”

Photos and videos from the scene show settlers and soldiers from the IDF aiming their weapons toward the Palestinian villagers. One video, obtained by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, shows a shirtless settler with a face covering walking around and chatting with nearby soldiers. At one point, the settler, armed with an automatic rifle, stands directly in front of a solider, takes aim toward the villagers, and opens fire. Other photos show settlers and soldiers alike with weapons raised.

Amid the chaos, Safadi struck by four bullets in the chest and abdomen, according to Shehadeh. He died of his wounds.

“We do not know whether it was a settler or a soldier who shot him,” Shehadeh said. “We had many who were wounded by gunfire that day. Nine people were hurt: one in the abdomen, another was shot three centimeters from his heart. And there was Nidal, who got killed.”

Shehadeh went on, “It was a planned attack. Revenge, not a confrontation. We used to have clashes every day and it never looked like that. They didn’t use live ammunition before, only tear gas and rubber bullets. Also, more soldiers used to be present.”

Joint Attacks

Safadi’s death was one of 11 violent killings of Palestinians in the West Bank on May 14, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. While Israeli media reported that the killings occurred amid “clashes” — implying the widespread protests over Al Aqsa and the Gaza bombings — at least four of the deaths occurred during deliberate attacks by settlers and soldiers on Palestinian villages, an investigation by Local Call and The Intercept found.

The joint attacks by Israeli settlers and soldiers were not linked to protests in the targeted villages; no demonstrations preceded the violence in three of the four locations. The incursions all occurred at almost the same time, around 2 p.m., and all involved the settlers destroying agricultural land, including by setting fires, as well as stone throwing and the use of live ammunition.

Attacks on Palestinians by stone-throwing settlers, as Israeli soldiers stand idly by, are a common occurrence in the occupied Palestinian territories. But scenes like those from May 14 — settlers and soldiers attacking villages in apparent cooperation, with live ammunition — are unprecedented.

“The only way I can describe this is by calling it militias,” said Quamar Mishirqi-Assad, an attorney and a partner in Haqel-Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights, an organization that works in the Israeli court system to represent Palestinians who have faced settler violence. “These cases, in which soldiers enter villages together with settlers, and in which there is massive gunfire by settlers — this is unprecedented.”

Five such attacks on May 14 left four Palestinians dead. One was killed in the village of Asira Al-Qibliya, in the Nablus area; another in Iskaka, near the Israeli settlement Ariel; a third in the village Al Reihiya, in South Mount Hebron; and Nidal Safidi in Urif. In the fifth village, Burin, which is also near Nablus, a similar attack ended without any deaths.

Videos, photographs, and villagers’ testimonies of the attacks indicate that, in at least three cases, Israeli settlers and soldiers acted as a combined fighting unit, effectively working as a joint militia attacking civilians and firing interchangeably at Palestinian residents. Coordination between the military and settlers is a burgeoning political issue in Israel: On Tuesday, 100 former combat soldiers sent a letter to Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz demanding he take action against settler violence that they themselves had witnessed during their service. “In the past year, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2021 at 3:12 pm

When Cops Commit Property Damage

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It seems appropriate to rethink police responsibilities and the range of immunity they are granted. Right now — especially as in this incident — police seem to play the role of an invading army in a war conducted on hostile territory, in which damaging and dangerous behavior is excused as necessary under the circumstances. Zak Cheney-Rice writes in New York:

Last Wednesday, as people were loading up on sparklers and hot dogs for the Fourth of July weekend, an explosion ripped through a South Los Angeles neighborhood. The blast shattered windows and flipped cars as far as two blocks away, injuring 17 people and forcing residents of at least 12 homes to move into a temporary shelter set up by the Red Cross. The elementary school on East 28th Street, about a block away from ground zero, was unaffected, but several people in neighboring buildings were hospitalized because flying glass shards had cut their faces.

The police have said they will “investigate” what happened. But their investigation won’t include the typical search for a suspect, because the party responsible for the explosion is the Los Angeles Police Department itself. Law-enforcement officials were executing what was supposed to be a “controlled detonation.” A week later, some local residents are still displaced, and the department is still trying to figure out what went wrong.

The police are sure of two things so far, and the first is how it all started. Cops searched a home on the 700 block of East 27th Street and seized about 5,000 pounds of fireworks, including what one LAPD detective described as “a small amount of unstable, improvised explosive-type fireworks.” Most of these materials were slated to be transported to a storage facility, but some of them were deemed too volatile, so the bomb squad decided to blow them up right there in the middle of the neighborhood. To accomplish this, they brought in a special truck with armored walls and tried to detonate about 10 pounds of fireworks inside of it.

Then there was a “total catastrophic failure of that containment vehicle,” said LAPD Chief Michael Moore. Part of the container’s lid was sent flying into the air, smashing part of someone’s roof several blocks down before landing in their backyard, reports CBS LA.

The second thing the cops are sure of is that they don’t want to pay for the damage. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Marta Elba, 61 … [asked] police how she could be reimbursed for a broken window caused by the blast. Elba said police told her she needed to call her insurance company.”

These two things are related. And they illustrate how police impunity extends beyond the destruction of people’s bodies to the destruction of almost everything else in their vicinity, including people’s homes.

The police’s license to kill has animated hundreds of protests and riots in the past year, involving up to 26 million people, the largest movement of its kind in U.S. history. These demonstrations have focused mostly on police killings of civilians, which in the last seven years have risen in prominence, if not necessarily in number, to the level of a nationally recognized emergency. Cops and their backers have tried to deflect the dissident energy in other directions, often toward the demonstrators’ own behavior and how it supposedly undermines the goals they claim to be pursuing.

A frequent object of this misdirection has been property. Whenever buildings get harmed, a familiar chorus arises casting the damaged structures as evidence of how irresponsible the dissidents are. “If you loot, riot, and destroy you lose all moral credibility, in my eyes, to protest injustice,” tweeted Charlie Kirk, then a surrogate for President Trump, at the start of last year’s uprising in Minneapolis, expressing a commonly held opinion.

When property destruction is not being weaponized as an emblem of demonstrators’ unworthiness, it is invoked to guilt them and to claim that they’re failing as good-faith partners in communities they share with other people, including cops. When Daunte Wright was killed by police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, in April, then-Chief Tim Gannon appealed to “our community, a community that I’ve been a part of for 27 years” to forestall damage to property during the ensuing protests. Never mind that his officers had spent years broadcasting how uninterested they were in sharing a community with the people they patrolled, epitomized by the fact that none of them actually lived in the city.

But this irony is secondary to the material fact of police fecklessness. In the course of their official duties, the cops’ sense of responsibility toward people’s living spaces and belongings is often as negligible as anything they accuse protesters of, and usually the police are far less accountable.

When LAPD officers told Elba she should contact her insurance company last week, they did so with a confidence instilled by years of legal precedent. According to the Times, a 1995 California Supreme Court ruling confirmed that “the government should not be held liable for damage that occurs as a consequence of lawful and reasonable actions by the police.” This isn’t a guarantee that cops or the city won’t compensate the victims of last week’s blast. But it makes accountability for law enforcement a piecemeal affair, at best, and contingent in large part on whether the cops own up to what they did wrong.

This doesn’t happen with any consistency. In past instances where law-enforcement entities have damaged property, they’ve sometimes deployed a civil-litigation unit to help the affected people. Other victims have been hung out to dry. In 2011, police in Schenectady, New York, coaxed a landlord into giving them keys to one of her tenants’ units. The next morning, they plowed through the man’s door with a battering ram, wrecking the doorframe and dislodging the wall between the apartment and the hall. The landlord was encouraged to file an insurance claim for compensation from the city. It was promptly denied because “the police had a search warrant.”

Some victims are trying to push the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2015, a SWAT team tore every window out of Leo Lech’s home in Greenwood Village, Colorado, and pulverized most of the interior while looking for a guy they suspected of shoplifting. A federal appeals court ruled they didn’t owe him anything. He’s still trying to get SCOTUS to hear the case.

The suffering and inconvenience experienced by property owners with insurance — and the time and wherewithal needed to file claims, compile thorough documentation, and follow up over weeks, months, and even years — is one thing. But in many cases, the destruction caused by police affects people with fewer means to recoup their losses. Residents of the area where cops detonated the fireworks last week have pointed out that law-enforcement recklessness in neighborhoods like theirs is no accident, precisely because they are more vulnerable.

“Bombings of communities of color are not a mistake,” said one resident at a news conference. “[The police] called the press … [They] didn’t let no neighborhood council leader know” before they set off the explosion. The cops warned some residents by going door to door — a dubious method in a neighborhood long marked by police abuse, and where many people are accustomed to distrusting law enforcement. (The LAPD is renowned for a drug-raid innovation it developed in the 1980s that literally entailed driving through people’s homes with a tank.)

Several residents were in their homes when last week’s detonation happened. Some are raising money on GoFundMe to cover their new living costs and medical expenses. This fallout is normal, and it is widely understood as elemental. “It’s just like if your home was in an area where there was a landslide and we shut you down for safety issues,” an officer from the LA County Sheriff’s Department told the Times in 2005. “The government entity is not responsible for that.”

Debates over whether police are a force for safety in American communities would be more comprehensive if they accounted not only for the death and bodily injury officers cause, but for the destruction and displacement they impose on people’s everyday living environments. This is not an unavoidable result of nature’s laws, as the “landslide” metaphor suggests, but a consequence of discrete decisions made by the cops and of the norms that shield them from being held responsible. The extent to which  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2021 at 2:52 pm

Seemingly normal: Profile of one insurrectionist — a geophysicist who seriously wounded a defenseless Capitol police officer

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Melanie Warner reports in Politico:

The text message showed up on John Bergman’s phone in late January. Sent to him by a former work colleague, it came with the question “Have you seen this??” and linked to an article and video from a news channel. Bergman pressed play.

It was a scene from the Capitol riots on January 6. Amid a throng of rioters outside the building’s western terrace tunnel was a figure wearing a tan Carhartt jacket, teal backpack, steel-toed boots and black tactical helmet. The article identified the man as Bergman’s longtime friend, Jeffrey Sabol. In the video, Sabol vaulted over a railing and appeared to drag a defenseless cop down a set of stairs.

Bergman could barely fathom what he was seeing. He had worked with Sabol for a decade and had known him for 18 years. “I’ve always revered Jeff as one of the most intelligent, capable, thoughtful, helping people,” Bergman says. “We had just spoken a few weeks earlier, and next thing I know he’s in Washington, D.C., doing this crazy thing.”

Sabol, 51, is a geophysicist from Kittredge, Colorado, a small town in the mountains outside Denver. In the weeks after the insurrection, he became one of the approximately 465 people charged so far for their participation in the January 6 insurrection. Sabol faces eight counts, several of them felonies, including the assault of police officers. He and four other defendants named in the same indictment are accused of participating in some of the day’s worst violence, which took place around 4:30 p.m. and resulted in several officers being stripped of their protective gear, dragged, stomped on, and attacked with crutches and a flagpole. [Politico article here includes a video of Sabol in action during the insurrection. – LG]

According to the indictment, Sabol wrested a baton from a second D.C. police officer who had been knocked down by another rioter outside the Capitol’s western terrace entrance, which would be the site of Joe Biden’s inauguration two weeks later. The officer later needed staples to close a wound on his head. Before being dragged into the mob by Sabol and others, prosecutors say, these officers had tried to reach a woman who died amid the throng (the D.C. medical examiner declared her death an amphetamine overdose). Images published in the government’s criminal complaint against Sabol show the woman lying on the ground at the top of the stairs wearing jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt, while Sabol and other men clash with police above her.

Sabol, who is divorced and has three teenagers back home in Colorado, also seems to appear in a YouTube video shot about two hours earlier and unearthed by a Twitter user who is part of a group of self-styled “sedition hunters.” In it, Sabol, known to the sedition hunters as #OrangeNTeal because of his highly identifiable jacket and backpack, runs headfirst into a row of officers trying to hold the line and prevent rioters from breaching the west steps of the Capitol.

Denied bail, Sabol is now locked in a cell at the Washington, D.C., Correctional Treatment Facility awaiting trial, deemed by a judge to be the “epitome of a flight risk” because of what he did after the riots. Unlike defendants who posted about their Capitol exploits on social media, Sabol immediately seemed to have grasped the gravity of his post-January 6 predicament. Back home in Colorado, he destroyed several electronic devices in his microwave and instructed friends to delete anything he had sent them, according to Sabol’s own statements to investigators. Several days later, he arrived at Logan Airport in Boston with a ticket to Zurich, Switzerland. Worried he had been recognized, he never got on the plane. Instead, he rented a car and drove to New York state, eventually ending up in a suburb of New York City. At some point along the way, he tossed his phone off a bridge and grew so distraught that he attempted to take his own life by slashing his wrists and thighs, his criminal complaint states.

“I’ve really been struggling with this, that my bro tried to kill himself,” Bergman says, his voice cracking with emotion. “It scared the shit out of me.”

Sabol’s actions on January 6 and the days afterward have left many in his life confused and grappling for answers. How did a highly educated, middle-aged man with so much to lose participate in what FBI director Christopher Wray called “domestic terrorism,” and then try to kill himself? How did someone with strong views about government overreach, but also plenty of friends and neighbors outside his political bubble, end up on the steps of the Capitol, in attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results?

In some ways, Sabol’s radicalization mirrors that of other insurrectionists, a group that collectively has put a new face on American extremism. While many of those arrested for political terrorism in recent decades have been young, underemployed and socially isolated, the majority of the 465 (and counting) defendants in the Capitol attack are much like Sabol—older individuals, mostly white men, with well-established careers. A report by the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats found that 67 percent of Capitol defendants are at least 35 years old, and 30 percent worked in white-collar jobs. Sabol was a geophysicist for an environmental services company. Other defendants include an investment manager at BB&T Bank (who died by suicide after his arrest), a State Department employee, an Olympic gold medalist swimmer, a real estate agent, many small-business owners, a doctor and an attorney. There are several dozen current or former military members, and at least 10 current or former law-enforcement officers. For all the public attention to right-wing groups and militias, just 12 percent of the defendants belonged to organized operations like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers or boogaloo boys. The majority of the defendants, including Sabol, also came not from the heart of Trump country but from counties Biden won.

Based on multiple interviews with people who knew him, as well as extensive public records, Sabol’s story offers a vivid example of how “normal” this new form of radicalization might look from the outside—and how hard it can be to detect. Sabol, according to his ex-wife, was involved in volatile episodes at home, and court records show that he was charged with misdemeanor child abuse in 2016, for injuring his teenage son. Yet in letters sent to the court on his behalf, 30 friends, neighbors and family members, including Army officers and a Denver police sergeant, describe the man they know in glowing terms. The kind of guy who gives his jacket to an underdressed hiker and goes down a 14,000-foot mountain in a T-shirt. A guy who steps in to prevent altercations. A guy with a peace-sign tattoo on his back.

“We discussed all kinds of topics—parenting, religion, politics, relationships, work, hobbies, and life experiences. Never once did I detect any indication of him being a fanatic of any sort,” wrote a retired schoolteacher who volunteered with Sabol at a youth horse-riding organization nearly every Saturday for the past two years. “I can’t conceive of him being a danger to the community in any way.”

Nearly six months after the insurrection, hundreds of defendants are awaiting trial or plea deals as their cases move through the justice system. Sabol is among the approximately 50 who have been denied bail and are being held in jail in Washington, D.C., in their cells for nearly 20 hours a day due to Covid concerns. The Biden administration has taken a number of steps to begin to combat violent domestic extremism across different federal departments, even as Congress recently failed to agree to create a commission to study the events of January 6.

But the larger problem—of how so many Americans came to see violence or forced entry into a government building as their best options, and whether it could happen again—isn’t at all resolved. Millions of Americans continue to hold some of the same beliefs that propelled Sabol to the Capitol. Experts say the new wave of right-wing extremism on display at the Capitol is both unprecedented in its size and scope—and far more challenging to track and root out. Understanding Jeffrey Sabol’s transformation reveals how radicalization can happen under the radar, while offering lessons for those who want to combat it going forward: about how personal challenges can collide with political messages, and how a person’s job, education level, community and even their social media profile aren’t reliable predictors of extremist behavior. Thousands of people descended on the Capitol terrace, with thousands of individual routes taken to get there.

Where will they go next? “What’s concerning is that many did not see January 6 as the end of something,” says Susan Corke, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They saw it as the beginning.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it indicates that there’s trouble ahead.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2021 at 12:11 pm

The US always seems to betray people who have helped it. Current instance: Afghan interpreters

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The Kurds are another ally treated shabbily (at best) by the US. Now Afghans who assisted the US are being left to the Taliban’s dubious mercy. David Zucchino and Najim Rahim report in the NY Times:

It was an offhand comment, blurted out in frustration. It may have destroyed Shoaib Walizada’s chances of earning a cherished visa to the United States.

Mr. Walizada, who interpreted for the U.S. Army for four years until 2013, said that he had complained one day, using profanity, that his assigned combat vest was too small. When the episode came to light later that year, Mr. Walizada’s preliminary approval for a visa was revoked for “unprofessional conduct.”

Mr. Walizada, 31, is among thousands of Afghans once employed by the U.S. government, many as interpreters, whose applications for a Special Immigrant Visa, or S.I.V., through a State Department program, have been denied.

The program, established to relocate to the United States Iraqis and Afghans whose lives are threatened because they worked for the American military or government, has rejected some applicants for seemingly minor infractions and others for no stated reason.

Now, as American troops depart and Afghans experience a growing sense of anxiety and despair, the visa applications have taken on renewed urgency. With the Taliban taking advantage of the U.S. withdrawal, many former interpreters say they are more likely than ever to be killed.

“I get phone calls from the Taliban saying, ‘We will kill you’ — they know who I am and that I worked for the Americans,” Mr. Walizada said. He has delayed marriage because he does not want to put a wife at risk, he said, and he has moved from house to house for safety.

The slightest blemish during years of otherwise stellar service can torpedo a visa application and negate glowing letters of recommendation from American commanders. In the last three months of 2020 alone, State Department statistics show, 1,646 Afghans were denied one of the special visas, which are issued to applicants satisfying demanding requirements and rigorous background checks even though interpreters would already have passed security screenings.

Among reasons cited for denial were the failure to prove the required length of service, insufficient documentation, failure to establish “faithful and valuable service” and “derogatory information.”

More than 18,000 Afghans are awaiting decisions on their S.I.V. applications, according to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Many say they are seized by dread, fearing they will be denied, or approved only after they have been hunted down and killed.

No One Left Behind, a nonprofit that advocates for the relocation of Afghan interpreters to the United States, says that more than 300 translators or their relatives have been killed since 2014. Thousands of S.I.V. applicants have submitted “threat letters” they received from the Taliban.

The visa program, first approved by Congress in 2006 for interpreters in Afghanistan and Iraq, has long been slowed by chronic delays and logjams. Most recently, a 2020 report by the State Department Inspector General identified six serious shortcomings in the Afghan S.I.V. process, including staff shortages and lack of a centralized database.

Many interpreters complain that they wait for months, and in some cases years, for a decision. Some joke that they have “S.I.V. syndrome” from constantly logging on to a State Department website for updates.

Nearly 21,000 visas were issued to Afghans from 2009 to March 2021, according to State Department figures. Just under 11,000 visas are still available.

Sayed Obaidullah Amin, 46, who interpreted for the U.S. Marine Corps for two years, said that he had passed an in-person interview at the American Embassy. But he was abruptly denied in 2019; a terse letter cited “lack of faithful and valuable service” and “derogatory information associated with case.”

Mr. Amin says he believes the S.I.V. program learned that, during one stint with a Marine unit, he returned to duty two days late after being granted leave to deal with his father’s heart attack.

Officials at the State Department and at the embassy said they could not provide the percentage of Afghan S.I.V. applicants who had been denied.

Most interpreters carry thick folders stuffed with letters from former commanders extolling their dedication and courage. A letter from a Marine officer, sent in hopes of reversing Mr. Amin’s rejection, praised his loyalty and steadfast service.

The officer, Andrew Darlington, a retired captain, said in an email that the embassy had not responded to his queries about the denial. “Thousands like Obaid are facing certain death in the next 12 to 24 months,” he wrote.

Waheedullah Rahmani, 27, said he had been waiting since 2015 for an S.I.V. decision. That year, he said, the embassy asked him to resubmit threat letters and letters of recommendation. He did so, he said, but his emails to the program have since gone unanswered. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s disheartening.

Written by Leisureguy

10 June 2021 at 5:09 pm

The Republican Party is a clear and present danger to American democracy

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, Katie Benner of the New York Times broke the story that former president Trump tried to use the Department of Justice to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Five emails provided to Congress show Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, asking the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, in December, to investigate rumors of voter fraud. One of the fantastical stories Meadows wanted investigated was the story that “people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr.”

The Department of Justice is not the president’s to command. It is supposed to enforce the laws of the United States and administer justice. The office of the president has its own lawyer—the White House counsel—and the president can also have their own personal representation. That Trump tried to use our own Department of Justice to overturn the will of the American voters is eye-popping.

But that was not the only news of the day. We also learned that the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, told Trump advisor Steven Bannon on a public show that had he not been able to block a great deal of mail-in voting in 2020, Biden would have won Texas.

We also learned that Oregon Representative Mike Nearman, who was already in trouble for opening the doors of the Oregon Capitol to anti–coronavirus restriction rioters on December 21, held a meeting beforehand, on December 16, to plot the event. An attendee filmed the talk, which set up “Operation Hall Pass.” That operation ultimately opened the Oregon capitol building to far-right rioters, who endangered the entire legislature. The video, which shows Nearman winking and nodding at setting up the invasion, has raised questions about whether other Republicans worked with insurrectionists in other settings.

It is an odd day for these stories to come to light. 

Seventy-seven years ago today, on June 5, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was preparing to send Allied troops, who fought for democracy, across the English Channel to France. There, he hoped, they would push the German troops, who fought for an authoritarian fascist state, back across Europe, securing a victory for democracy over authoritarianism. 

More than 5,000 ships waited to transport more than 150,000 soldiers to France before daybreak the following morning. The fighting to take Normandy would not be easy. The beaches the men would assault were tangled in barbed wire, booby trapped, and defended by German soldiers in concrete bunkers.

On the afternoon of June 5, as the Allied soldiers, their faces darkened with soot and cocoa, milled around waiting to board the ships, Eisenhower went to see the men he was almost certainly sending to their deaths. He joked with the troops, as apparently upbeat as his orders to them had been when he told them Operation Overlord had launched. “The tide has turned!” his letter read. “The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!”

But after cheering his men on, he went back to his headquarters and wrote another letter. Designed to blame himself alone if Operation Overlord failed, it read:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

The letter was, of course, never delivered. Operation Overlord was a success, launching the final assault in which western democracy, defended by ordinary men and women, would destroy European fascism.

U.S. Army photograph, 1944, Library of Congress

Written by Leisureguy

5 June 2021 at 8:07 pm

The Capitol Rioters Won

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Adam Serwer writes in the Atlantic:

Republicans say they would like to move on from the 2020 election.

“A lot of our members, and I think this is true of a lot of House Republicans, want to be moving forward and not looking backward,” John Thune, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, told CNN on May 19. “Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 elections I think is a day lost on being able to draw a contrast between us and the Democrats’ very radical left-wing agenda.”

After Thune and 34 of his Republican colleagues used the filibuster last week to block a vote on creating a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol riot, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Republicans of fearing the wrath of former President Donald Trump. “Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they’re afraid of Donald Trump,” Schumer said on the floor.

But Republicans are not blocking a bipartisan January 6 commission because they fear Trump, or because they want to “move on” from 2020. They are blocking a January 6 commission because they agree with the underlying ideological claim of the rioters, which is that Democratic electoral victories should not be recognized. Because they regard such victories as inherently illegitimate—the result of fraud, manipulation, or the votes of people who are not truly American—they believe that the law should be changed to ensure that elections more accurately reflect the will of Real Americans, who by definition vote Republican. They believe that there is nothing for them to investigate, because the actual problem is not the riot itself but the unjust usurpation of power that occurred when Democrats won. Absent that provocation, the rioters would have stayed home.

Americans have suffered through a pandemic, an economic crisis, and a presidential election in the past year; it’s understandable that many would want to disengage from politics. With Trump gone from the White House and banned from his favorite social-media platform, the most visible symbol of the nation’s democratic backsliding is out of office. But Trump’s absence has not arrested the Republican Party’s illiberal turn—on the contrary, he is now a martyr to an election that he falsely claims was rigged. If anything, though, our electoral system is rigged in favor of Republicans; Democrats had to overcome a significant structural bias in the Electoral College, meaning Trump almost prevailed again even as his opponent won 7 million more votes.

As New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait wrote, the “accommodation” that Republicans “have reached between their violent and nonviolent wings is a legal regimen designed to ensure that the next time a Trump rejects the election result, he won’t need a mob to prevail.” Trump did not impose this belief that elections are valid only if they result in Republican victory on the conservative rank and file; he was a manifestation of it. Nor are Republican officials held hostage by a base they fear; falsehoods about election fraud have been deliberately stoked by Republican elites who then insist that they must bow to the demands of the very misinformed constituents they have been lying to. The last thing ambitious Republicans want is to let this fire go out.

Trump infamously refused to concede the 2020 election until after the mob he had incited ransacked the Capitol in an effort to overturn the outcome. But even afterward, most Republicans in the House, and several in the Senate, refused to vote to certify the results. The rioters were outliers in the sense that they employed political violence and intimidation in an attempt to overturn the election. But the rioters fell squarely within the Republican mainstream in sharing Trump’s belief that his defeat meant the election was inherently illegitimate. The main ideological cleavage within the GOP is not whether election laws should be changed to better ensure Republican victory, but whether political violence is necessary to achieve that objective.

The large majority of Republicans are content with simply changing the rules to make it harder for Democrats to win elections, but figures beloved by the party fringe, such as former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Representatives Matt Gaetz and Majorie Taylor Greene, openly flirt with the possibility of seizing power by force.

Greene has warned that freedom is “earned with the price of blood”; over the weekend, Flynn backtracked on a public call for a military coup; and Gaetz, on tour with Greene, told a receptive audience that “the Second Amendment is about maintaining, within the citizenry, the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government, if that becomes necessary.” As far as these three are concerned, this is the idle talk of studio gangsters. The issue is that it reflects a very real rejection of liberal democracy and the peaceful transfer of power among Republican voters.

Republicans are not “moving on” from the 2020 election. In state after state, Republican-controlled legislatures have passed laws making it more difficult to vote, in some cases explicitly targeting Democratic constituencies. Over the weekend, Texas Democrats temporarily blocked one such measure that would have not only outlawed methods that Democratic-led counties have used to increase turnout, but also curtailed early Sunday voting, a tradition for many Black churches. The Texas Republican state legislator Travis Clardy later insisted that the limitation on Sunday voting was a “typo”; if lawmakers can’t draw up legislation dealing with Americans’ fundamental rights without egregiously discriminating on the basis of race, they shouldn’t hold office to begin with.

Texas joins 14 other states in attempting to curtail voting rights in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Some Republican-controlled states have purged officials who refused to obey Trump’s instructions not to certify the election results; a few are considering measures that would allow state legislatures to overturn such results outright.

The risks of such measures are obvious. Between the effectiveness of gerrymandering and the partisan polarization of urban and rural districts, in some states winning a legislative majority is well-nigh impossible for the Democratic Party as currently constituted. In the event that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 June 2021 at 2:34 pm

Democracy at risk

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, more than 100 scholars who study democracy issued a letter warning that “our entire democracy is now at risk.” The letter explains that the new election laws in Republican-led states, passed with the justification that they will make elections safer, in fact are turning “several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections.”

If we permit the breakdown of democracy, it will be a very long time before we can reverse the damage. As a nation spirals downward, the political scientists, sociologists, and government scholars explain, “violence and corruption typically flourish, and talent and wealth flee to more stable countries, undermining national prosperity. It is not just our venerated institutions and norms that are at risk—it is our future national standing, strength, and ability to compete globally.”

The scholars called for federal action to protect equal access to voting and to guarantee free and fair elections. Voting rights should not depend on which party runs the state legislature, and votes must be cast and counted equally, regardless of where a citizen lives. They back the reforms in the For the People Act, which protects the right to vote, ends partisan gerrymandering, and curbs the flood of money into elections.

They urged Congress “to do whatever is necessary—including suspending the filibuster—in order to pass national voting and election administration standards that both guarantee the vote to all Americans equally, and prevent state legislatures from manipulating the rules in order to manufacture the result they want. Our democracy is fundamentally at stake.”

“History,” they wrote, “will judge what we do at this moment.”

But in Tulsa, Oklahoma, today, President Joe Biden noted that the events that transpired in the Greenwood district of that city 100 years ago today were written out of most histories. The Tulsa Massacre destroyed 35 blocks of the prosperous Greenwood neighborhood, wiping out 1100 homes and businesses and taking hundreds of Black lives, robbing Black families of generational wealth and the opportunities that come with it.

Biden pointed out that he was the first president to go to Tulsa to acknowledge what happened there on May 31 and June 1, 1921. But, he said, “We do ourselves no favors by pretending none of this ever happened or doesn’t impact us today, because it does.” He drew a direct line from the terrorism at Greenwood to the terrorism in August 2017 at Charlottesville, Virginia, to the January 6 insurrection. Citing the intelligence community, he reminded listeners that “terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today. Not Isis. Not al-Qaeda. White supremacists.”

Victims’ trauma endures, too, and it eventually demands a reckoning when “what many people hadn’t seen before, or simply refused to see, cannot be ignored any longer.” Today, Americans are recognizing “that for too long, we’ve allowed a narrowed, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester, the view that America is a zero-sum game, where there’s only one winner. If you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. If you get a job, I lose mine. And maybe worst of all, if I hold you down, I lift myself up. Instead of if you do well, we all do well.” Biden promised to invest in Black communities extensively to unlock creativity and innovation.

Then the president took on the elephant in the room: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

2 June 2021 at 2:44 pm

The massacre that destroyed Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street”

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I was born in (southern) Oklahoma and lived there until I left for college. I never heard of the massacre that white citizens in Tulsa carried out on May 31, 1921 — and apparently neither did most other white Oklahomans, since it was never talked or written about: a complete cover-up. That might be due to shame or to guilt or simply to a desire to keep a crime hidden. Certainly no white person was punished, though many of the surviving victims were punished — for example, by having insurance companies refuse to pay claims of loss.

Fabiola Cineas has a good article in Vox on the crime. In the meantime, Oklahoma is taking steps to prevent schools from teaching about this event (or any of the other atrocities that Native Americans, Blacks, Asians, and others have suffered from the white majority).

Cineas’s article begins:

he sky above Tulsa, Oklahoma, swelled with a thick, dark smoke on the evening of May 31, 1921.

That night and over the next 14 hours, white Tulsans, aided by local law enforcement officials and National Guard troops, destroyed 35 square blocks of segregated Black Tulsa and its affluent Greenwood community, which stretched for more than a mile and was home to an estimated 10,000 Black residents. When groups of hostile white invaders entered the area — incensed by a rumored assault of a white girl by a young Black man, which was later proven false — they looted and set more than 1,250 homes ablaze, according to an official government report commissioned almost 80 years later.

They razed what had been considered a promised land for Black Americans who traveled from afar to reach it. The elite enclave included doctor’s offices, butcher shops, drugstores, tailor shops, shoeshine parlors, cafes, restaurants, beauty parlors, barbershops, newspaper headquarters, a confectionery, a theater, hotels, billiards halls, dry cleaners, and grocery stores that were all burned down. Essential community spaces — a library, Dunbar Grade School, Frissell Memorial Hospital, and churches — were charred to bits, and even the trees that lined the once-bustling streets became sooty figures drooping over a wasteland.

Many of the people who had toiled for years to build Greenwood Avenue into what Booker T. Washington reportedly called the “Negro’s Wall Street” were shot and burned beyond recognition. Some reasonable estimates put the number of people killed between 70 and 300, historians told Vox. According to the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 report, bodies were dropped into unmarked graves in a city cemetery, while others, according to some oral histories, were thrown into the Arkansas River, and still others were hauled off to unknown locations. More than 800 people were treated for wounds and 8,000 were left homeless.

Five years ago, the Tulsa massacre was virtually unknown to the broader public — and even to people living in Tulsa. That a Black metropolis was destroyed in a matter of hours, let alone that it existed at the top of the 20th century, could sound like fiction to the most imaginative listener.

The Tulsa massacre remained buried under fear — Black families too afraid of a repeat event — and a conspiracy of silence as white perpetrators covered up their deeds so quickly that, 100 years later, many officials and historians believe some of the bodies of buried victims still haven’t been found. For generations, the pogrom of Black people in the heart of the Sooner State was absent from Oklahoma school curricula.

For decades, the story of the massacre remained untold so as not to deviate from the narrative that America is exceptional and founded on democratic ideals. But the Tulsa massacre is no longer a secret. The story is being told locally and nationally, in the media, on television, and before Congress: Two award-winning HBO series — Watchmen, which aired in 2019, and Lovecraft Country, which aired in 2020 — depicted the event for millions of viewers. Theater productions such as Tulsa ’21: Black Wall Street will soon open to Oklahoma audiences, following the earlier play Big Mama Speaks. The Bitter Root comic book series recently illustrated the massacre on its pages. Two upcoming documentariesone executive-produced by NBA star Russell Westbrook and co-directed by Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams, will be released on the 100th anniversary of the massacre.

The three known remaining survivors of the disaster — Viola Ford Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis, and Lessie Benningfield Randle — petitioned Congress for justice this month, justice that includes reparations and an acknowledgment of the harm done. And President Joe Biden will make his way to Tulsa on June 1 to commemorate the massacre’s centennial.

Even as the pogrom becomes common knowledge, there are many truths about it that likely won’t ever be known. Tulsa is forcing the nation to keep questioning all that it doesn’t know — and all that it has tried to hide.

“The irony of Oklahoma is . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — a lot more — and it’s worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 June 2021 at 9:17 am

Recalling the Tulsa race massacre, and calling for reparations

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Brett Milano writes in the Harvard Gazette:

The upcoming centennial of the Tulsa race massacre brings a grim reminder of America’s troubled history with African Americans with a particular resonance, given the current national reckoning sparked by the unjust police killing of George Floyd and other people of color. In a virtual event this week sponsored by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, a panel of academics and human rights activists discussed the past and focused on the work that remains.

On May 31, 1921, armed white mobs began a deadly assault on Tulsa’s affluent Greenwood district, popularly known as the Black Wall Street. It was sparked by an accusation that a young Black man named Dick Rowland had threatened or possibly assaulted a white woman on an elevator. Charges against Rowland would eventually be dropped. But the rumor was enough that rioting whites descended on the Black district, killing as many as 300 African Americans, injuring hundreds, leaving thousands homeless, and burning hundreds of businesses, homes, churches, schools, and other buildings to the ground.

In the wake of the massacre, the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan continued to flourish; police and many other records of the event vanished; and no public memorials or commemorative events occurred in Tulsa for decades.

The anniversary held special personal meaning for Wednesday’s first speaker, Regina Goodwin, an Oklahoma state representative and Black Caucus chair. Born and raised in the Greenwood area, she had a great-grandmother and great-grandfather who survived the massacre. “The history and the lessons of that period are with me every day. You can talk about a new kind of massacre if you will, when it comes to the erasing of a culture and the particular kinds of businesses that once were,” she said, referring to gentrification in and around Greenwood that threatens to rob the district of its historic identity.

Her ancestors, she said, were among the first to call for reparations after the assault, and she said that battle continues in the efforts to pass federal H.R.40 (an act that would establish a Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans). “That’s where we are: We’re at a crossroads in America where racism has been amplified, the same racism that triggered the total devastation of Greenwood,” she said. “We have to grapple today with the question of race. When are we going to stop just hearing the remedies and start enacting good policy?”

Each of the panelists echoed the same sentiment, that our times call for concrete reparations and not just words. Karlos Hill, who chairs the Department of African and African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, underlined that argument by sharing some of his own research — particularly some powerful photos of the Tulsa devastation. “Even for an historian of racial violence, I was shocked when I really learned the depth of the viciousness,” he said. Both the photos and survivors’ testimony, he said, undercut the white supremacist narrative of the Tulsa death and destruction were the result of “Negro insurrection.”

“Once I understood the scope of this I realized it was a community lynching … and we could even look at this as an attempted expulsion of Black people from Tulsa,” Hill said. This made reparations all the more necessary, he said. “If the 100th anniversary is to mean anything, it should mean us mustering the courage for once to do right by America’s victims of white supremacist violence.”

Dreisen Heath, a researcher and advocate in Human Rights Watch’s U.S. program, was even more specific. She said  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2021 at 3:03 pm

The Republican party has demonstrably lost its collective mind (and conscience)

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Heather Cox Richardson points out some salient facts:

As expected, this morning the House Republicans removed Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney from her position as conference chair after she refused to stop speaking out against the former president for instigating the January 6 attack on our Capitol and the counting of electoral votes for President Joe Biden. The Republicans ousted her by voice vote, which meant that no one had to go on the record for or against Cheney, and the Republicans kept the split in the party from being measurable. It also ensured that she would lose; she has survived a secret ballot vote before.

Before the vote, Cheney allegedly told her Republican colleagues: “If you want leaders who will enable and spread his destructive lies, I’m not your person; you have plenty of others to choose from.” After the vote, she went in front of the cameras to say that she would lead the fight to reclaim the party from Trump, and said: “I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again goes anywhere near the Oval Office.”

After her ouster, Trump Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn (NC) tweeted ““Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye Liz Cheney.” The former president echoed Cawthorn: “Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being. I watched her yesterday and realized how bad she is for the Republican Party. She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our Country.”

After convincing his caucus to dump Cheney and embrace Trump, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told reporters: “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with.”

This was a breathtaking statement. McCarthy himself challenged the certification of Biden’s win, and just last week, Trump made a big announcement in which he called the election of 2020 “fraudulent.” The Big Lie animating the Republicans today is that Trump, not Biden, really won the 2020 election.

But McCarthy is not alone in his gaslighting. Yesterday, in the Senate Rules Committee markup of S1, the For the People Act protecting the vote, ending gerrymandering, and pushing big money out of our elections, Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said: “I don’t think anyone on our side has been arguing that [voter fraud] has been pervasive all over the country.”

The false claim of widespread voter fraud is, of course, exactly what Trump Republicans have stood on since the 2020 election. It is the justification for their voter suppression measures in Republican states, including Texas, Iowa, Georgia, Florida, and, as of yesterday afternoon, Arizona.

In today’s House Oversight Committee hearing on the January 6 insurrection, Republican lawmakers in general tried to gaslight Americans, as they tried to paint that unprecedented attack on our democracy as nothing terribly important. Although 140 law enforcement officers were injured, five people were killed, more than 400 people have been charged with crimes, and rioters did more than $30 million worth of damage, Republican representatives downplayed the events of the day, insisting that they were not really out of the ordinary. Representative Andrew Clyde (R-GA) said that calling the attack on the Capitol an insurrection is a “bald-faced lie” and that “if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit….”

CNN later called Clyde’s remarks “absolute nonsense.” Even the definition of insurrection Clyde quoted—“an organized attempt by a group of people to defeat their government and take control of their country usually by violence”—showed the attack of January 6 to be an insurrection. And, as lawyer and CNN analyst Asha Rangappa noted tonight on Twitter, at his second impeachment trial even Trump’s own lawyers did not dispute that the events of January 6 were a violent insurrection. The record is clear.

Republican lawmakers like Clyde did, though, echo the former president’s interview on the Fox News Channel in March when he said that when his supporters went into the Capitol they posed “zero threat” and were “hugging and kissing the police and the guards…. A lot of the people were waved in, and then they walked in and they walked out.”

The former president appears to be continuing to exercise control over his underlings. Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and former Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller provided testimony at the House Oversight Committee hearing, and what they would not say was revealing. Rosen refused to answer questions about whether Trump asked him to try to overturn the 2020 election. Miller’s prepared remarks had included a sentence that said “I stand by my prior observation that I personally believe his comments encouraged the protesters that day.” In his testimony, he omitted that line, and later tried to walk it back, trying to draw a line between people who marched on the Capitol and those who broke into it.

But with Cheney and her supporters now in open revolt, and with news about the Capitol attack dropping, and even with more information coming about the ties between the former president and Russia, will Republican Party leaders manage to sweep everything under the rug?

Today, at a hearing on domestic extremism before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas both testified that the most serious domestic national security threat in the U.S. right now is that of white supremacist gangs. “I think it’s fair to say that in my career as a judge, and in law enforcement, I have not seen a more dangerous threat to democracy than the invasion of the Capitol,” Garland said. “There was an attempt to interfere with the fundamental passing of an element of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power. And if there has to be a hierarchy of things that we prioritize, this would be the one we’d prioritize. It is the most dangerous threat to our democracy. That does not mean that we don’t focus on other threats.”

For his part, President Biden is refusing to get sucked into the Republican drama, instead focusing on the country. Today an advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the Pfizer vaccine for children as young as 12, and the CDC signed off on the recommendation, making it easier to reopen schools in the fall.

Today Biden met at the White House with . . .

Continue reading. It’s worth noting that the domestic terrorist threat comes almost totally from the radical right.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2021 at 9:52 pm

“No legal objection, per se”

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E.M. Liddick writes in War on the Rocks:

The commander turns to me. “Any issues, Eric?”

I am the legal advisor to a special operations task force conducting counter-terrorism operations. Our mission: locate and capture — or kill — terrorists.

My “morning,” like so many others, began a few hours earlier, but that means little when day blurs into night, night into day. I had removed my boots and lain down in my uniform on my well-worn twin-sized mattress shortly before the last of our teams began their return to base at about 3 a.m.

The pager, habitually positioned on a ledge near my head, buzzed obnoxiously around 5 a.m., jolting me awake, spiking my heart rate. I reached for it, desperate to reclaim the silence, before swinging my legs off the bed and exhaling an audible groan.

Sleepwalking and squinting, I made my way down the hall to the joint operations center to answer the page. A flurry of activity had replaced the normal quiet found in the few hours between an operation and sunrise. As the commander and operations officer intently focused on an unfolding situation, I walked over to the chief of operations. With a quiet and solemn voice, he broke the news: We just lost one of our men.

With a start, the fog lifted. My brain revved from zero to 60, rifling through battle drills and searching for potential legal issues. Knowing this tragedy could beget more, I sent a runner to wake my deputy and paralegal. When they arrived, I explained the situation and assigned tasks, reminding them that, though we all justifiably felt anger, we needed to be the ones who remained unemotional. I tried to exude confidence and certainty, but my face, I fear, betrayed insecurity and anxiety.

Now, roughly four hours after that obnoxious buzz, I find myself staring at an oversized screen. On it, I observe three congregating individuals, two on bicycles, one who appears young — perhaps a boy, but I can’t be sure — and I, as the legal advisor, am being asked by the commander whether he may legally kill these three humans. I am the judge — he the jury and executioner.

This is a story about how a lawyer’s professional responsibilities, when tossed into the pressure cooker of combat, can produce unpalatable consequences; a story about the reaches of war and post-traumatic stress and moral injury on its less obvious participants; and how the hidden costs of war may be more expansive than we realize.

****

The reports began surfacing almost a decade into the “Global War on Terror”: Drone pilots operating from within the safety of the United States were beginning to show signs of post-traumatic stress.

I remember balking, laughing even. How could a drone pilot who worked in an air-conditioned box in Nevada or wherever, a pilot who worked eight or ten or twelve hours before returning home for dinner, a pilot who faced no real physical danger suffer from post-traumatic stress or moral injury? Absurd, I thought.

Now, almost two decades into that same war and confronting my own grief, I ask: How could I be so scornful, so wrong, so quick to judge?

Much has been written about the invisible wounds of combat, injuries suffered by, among others, infantry soldiersmedicsdrone pilotsinterrogatorsspecial operations forces, and even journalists. Their wounds seem easy to comprehend, with their proximity to the action or direct causal link between the push of a button and manufactured death. But no one speaks about the potential for these wounds to affect others, like judge advocates, who find themselves far removed from the physical danger or the direct causal link. Yet, I feel these wounds within me.

Sure, I was geographically closer to the action, but, psychologically, I remained nearer to Nevada and those drone pilots. I faced little danger beyond sporadic, and ineffective, mortar attacks. I didn’t receive or return fire, didn’t experience “friendly fire,” didn’t fear improvised explosive devices, and, most importantly, didn’t order the strikes or pull the trigger that took another human life. Instead, I was a mere cog in the machinery of death, advising in relative comfort away from the action, fueled by a steady supply of caffeine, snacks, and adrenaline, providing a cloak of legality to the decision-maker’s choice to approve a strike, to pull a trigger — to kill.

Even so, every cog contains some thing. And this something has changed since I returned home. I am different, and the difference is the weight of the guilt I feel. But it is not only the moral weight of how even legal advice kills, but also the burden of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2021 at 1:43 pm

The Reorientations of Edward Said

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In the New Yorker Pankaj Mishra has a very interesting profile of Edward Said in the context of a new biography. The entire piece is worth reading. It begins:

“Professor of Terror” was the headline on the cover of the August, 1989, issue of Commentary. Inside, an article described Edward Said, then a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, as a mouthpiece for Palestinian terrorists and a confidant of Yasir Arafat. “Eduardo Said” was how he was referred to in the F.B.I.’s two-hundred-and-thirty-eight-page file on him—perhaps on the assumption that a terrorist was likely to have a Latin name. V. S. Naipaul willfully mispronounced “Said” to rhyme with “head,” and asserted that he was “an Egyptian who got lost in the world.” Said, an Arab Christian who was frequently taken to be Muslim, recognized the great risks of being misidentified and misunderstood. In “Orientalism” (1978), the book that made him famous, he set out to answer the question of, as he wrote in the introduction, “what one really is.” The question was pressing for a man who was, simultaneously, a literary theorist, a classical pianist, a music critic, arguably New York’s most famous public intellectual after Hannah Arendt and Susan Sontag, and America’s most prominent advocate for Palestinian rights.

Multiple and clashing selves were Said’s inheritance from the moment of his birth, in 1935, in West Jerusalem, where a midwife chanted over him in both Arabic and Hebrew. The family was Episcopalian and wealthy, and his father, who had spent years in America and prided himself on having light skin, named him after the Prince of Wales. Said always loathed his name, especially when shortened to Ed. Sent as a teen-ager to an American boarding school, Said found the experience “shattering and disorienting.” Trained at Princeton and Harvard as a literary scholar in a Euro-American humanist tradition, he became an enthusiast of French theory, a partisan of Michel Foucault. In “Orientalism,” published two decades into a conventional academic career, Said unexpectedly described himself as an “Oriental subject” and implicated almost the entire Western canon, from Dante to Marx, in the systematic degradation of the Orient.

“Orientalism” proved to be perhaps the most influential scholarly book of the late twentieth century; its arguments helped expand the fields of anti-colonial and post-colonial studies. Said, however, evidently came to feel that “theory” was “dangerous” to students, and derided the “jaw-shattering jargonistic postmodernisms” of scholars like Jacques Derrida, whom he considered “a dandy fooling around.” Toward the end of his life, the alleged professor of terror collaborated with the conductor Daniel Barenboim to set up an orchestra of Arab and Israeli musicians, angering many Palestinians, including members of Said’s family, who supported a campaign of boycott and sanctions against Israel. While his handsome face appeared on the T-shirts and posters of left-wing street protesters worldwide, Said maintained a taste for Rolex watches, Burberry suits, and Jermyn Street shoes right up to his death, from leukemia, in 2003.

“To be a Levantine is to live in two or more worlds at once without belonging to either,” Said once wrote, quoting the historian Albert Hourani. “It reveals itself in lostness, pretentiousness, cynicism and despair.” His melancholy memoir of loss and deracination, “Out of Place” (1999), invited future biographers to probe the connection between their subject’s cerebral and emotional lives. Timothy Brennan, a friend and graduate student of Said’s, now warily picks up the gauntlet, in an authorized biography, “Places of Mind” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Scanting Said’s private life, including his marriages and other romantic liaisons, Brennan concerns himself with tracing an intellectual and political trajectory. One of the half-concealed revelations in the book is how close Said came, with his Levantine wealth and Ivy League education, to being a somewhat refined playboy, chasing women around the Eastern Seaboard in his Alfa Romeo. In Jerusalem, Said went to St. George’s, a boys’ school for the region’s ruling castes. In Cairo—where his family moved in 1947, shortly before Jewish militias occupied West Jerusalem—he attended the British-run Victoria College. There he was chiefly known for his mediocre marks and insubordinate ways; his classmates included the future King Hussein of Jordan and the actor Omar Sharif.

Cairo was then the principal metropolis of a rapidly decolonizing and politically assertive Arab world. The creation of the state of Israel—following a U.N. resolution, on Palestinian land—and the refugee crisis and wars that ensued were on everyone’s mind. Yet Said inhabited a bubble of affluent cosmopolitans, speaking English and French better than Arabic, and attending the local opera. When he was six years old, he started playing the family piano, a Blüthner baby grand from Leipzig, and he later received private lessons from Ignace Tiegerman, a Polish Jew famous for his interpretations of Brahms and Chopin. Said’s father, who ran a successful office-supply business, was socially ambitious, and his time in America had given him a lasting admiration for the West. At one point, he considered moving his entire family to the United States. Instead, in 1951, he contented himself with dispatching his son to Northfield Mount Hermon School, in rural Massachusetts.

Brennan shows how much Said initially was, as he once confessed, a “creature of an American and even a kind of upper-class wasp education,” distanced from the “uniquely punishing destiny” of an Arab Palestinian in the West. Glenn Gould recitals in Boston appear to have registered more with him than the earthquakes of the post-colonial world, such as the Great Leap Forward or the anti-French insurgency in Algeria. The Egyptian Revolution erupted soon after Said left for the U.S., and a mob of protesters burned down his father’s stationery shop. Within a decade, the family had moved to Lebanon. Yet these events seem to have had less influence on Said than the political currents of his new country did. Brennan writes, “Entering the United States at the height of the Cold War would color Said’s feelings about the country for the rest of his life.” Alfred Kazin, writing in his journals in 1955, already worried that intellectuals had found in America a new “orthodoxy”—the idea of the country as “world-spirit and world hope.” This consensus was bolstered by a professionalization of intellectual life. Jobs in universities, media, publishing, and think tanks offered former bohemians and penurious toilers money and social status. Said began his career at precisely this moment, when many upwardly mobile American intellectuals became, in his later, unforgiving analysis, “champions of the strong.”

Nonetheless, his own early impulse, born of an immigrant’s insecurity, was, as he later put it, to make himself over “into something the system required.” His earliest intellectual mentors were such iconic figures of American literary culture as R. P. Blackmur and Lionel Trilling. He wrote a prize-winning dissertation on Conrad; he read Sartre and Lukács. In his early writings, he faithfully absorbed all the trends then dominant in English departments, from existentialism to structuralism. Devoted to Chopin and Schumann, he seems to have been as indifferent to blues and jazz as he was to Arabic music. He adored Hollywood movies, but there is no evidence that, in this period, he engaged with the work of James Baldwin or Ralph Ellison, or had much interest in the civil-rights movement. When students protesting the war in Vietnam disrupted a class of his, he called campus security.

Brennan detects a hint of what was to come in a remark of Said’s about the dual selves of Conrad: one “the waiting and willing polite transcriber who wished to please, the other an uncooperative demon.” Much impotent anger seems to have long simmered in Said as he witnessed “the web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or the Muslim.” In a conversation filmed for Britain’s Channel 4, Said claimed that many of his cultural heroes, such as Isaiah Berlin and Reinhold Niebuhr, were prejudiced against Arabs. “All I could do,” he said, “was note it.” He watched aghast, too, the critical acclaim for “The Arab Mind,” a 1973 book by the Hungarian Jewish academic Raphael Patai, which described Arabs as a fundamentally unstable people.

It’s not hard to see how Said, upholding the “great books” courses at Columbia, would have come to feel intensely the frustrations that writers and intellectuals from countries subjugated by Europe and America had long experienced: so many of the canonical figures of Western liberalism and democracy, from John Stuart Mill to Winston Churchill, were contemptuous of nonwhite peoples. Among aspiring intellectuals who came to the U.S. and Europe from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, a sense of bitterness ran especially deep. Having struggled to emulate the cultural élite of the West by acquiring a knowledge of its literature and philosophy, they realized that their role models remained largely ignorant of the worlds they had come from. Moreover, the steep price of that ignorance was paid, often in blood, by the people back home.

It was the Six-Day War, in 1967, and the exultant American media coverage of Israel’s crushing victory over Arab countries, that killed Said’s desire to please his white mentors. He began reaching

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 April 2021 at 10:03 am

13 investigations, no court-martials: Here’s how the US Navy and Marine Corps quietly discharged white supremacists

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Will Carless reports in USA Today:

For decades, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have quietly kicked out some of the worst white supremacists in their ranks, offering them administrative discharges that leave no public record of their hateful activity, a USA TODAY review of Navy documents found.

The documents, obtained via a public-records request by the open-government advocacy group American Oversight, detail 13 major investigations into white supremacist activity in the Navy and Marine Corps over more than 20 years. They show a pattern in which military leaders chose to deal with personnel involved in extremism by dismissing them in ways that would not attract public attention.

Take what happened to Edward Fix and Jacob Laskey.

In the early hours of Dec. 10, 2000, three white men left a neo-Nazi rally and headed to downtown Jacksonville, Florida. They were looking for a Black person to beat up, according to the Navy records.

On Main Street, they found John Joseph Newsome, 44. They beat him severely with their fists, boots and a broken bottle, all the while shouting “Kill the n—–,” according to the documents.

Then they went looking for another victim.

The trio was soon arrested and charged with aggravated battery causing great bodily harm and committing a hate crime. All three pleaded guilty to felonies and were sentenced to varying terms in the Duval County jail.

But two of the men faced another investigation. Fix and Laskey were enlisted members of the United States Navy, serving at nearby bases.

Yet the two sailors never faced military charges, which likely would have resulted in them being dishonorably discharged if they had been found guilty.

Instead, the Navy dismissed them via administrative discharges. Their only punishment from the Navy for almost beating a man to death in a racially-motivated hate crime was to lose their jobs, documents show.

Fix and Laskey entered civilian life with barely a blot on their military record. Fix fared even better: Because he had cooperated with civilian prosecutors, the felony conviction never went on his record.

13 investigations into white supremacy. No court-martials.

The Navy records describe investigations into allegations of white supremacist assault, theft, verbal abuse, threats and even gang crimes between 1997 and 2020.

One investigation involved members of a white supremacist gang called the “RRR”— an apparent nod to the KKK — who branded themselves with lighters and got in fights with nonwhite Marines.

In another case, a female sailor started one of the earliest online white supremacist message boards. She bragged about her top-secret security clearance while writing screeds about Hitler, Jews and Black people.

Not one of the 13 investigations resulted in a military trial, known as a court-martial, according to the documents. That’s the only way a member of the military can receive what’s called a “punitive discharge” such as a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge.

Instead, some of the personnel received small fines or pay cuts. Most of the troops who were let go received a general discharge under honorable conditions, the most mild administrative discharge.

Besides the 13 cases, records for another 10 have not been released because they are being reviewed, said a spokeswoman for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which investigates felony-level criminal activity.

Most of the cases in the documents were never written about in the media. The names of Navy personnel are redacted, along with other identifying details. USA TODAY identified a few through other sources, but most remain anonymous.

What most of the accused white supremacists went on to do after leaving the Navy is also unknown.

a’s most violent and notorious neo-Nazis. At the time of the beating, he already sported a chest tattoo of a swastika, according to the civilian prosecutor who handled his case.

Less than two years after the Navy let him go, Laskey was involved in an attack on a synagogue full of worshippers. He was convicted of throwing bricks etched with swastikas through the windows of the temple. After spending more than a decade in prison, he was released in 2018, only to quickly be charged with assaulting and stabbing another neo-Nazi.

He was released in 2020, sporting a mask of facial tattoos including the words “white power” inked across his jawbone.

Laskey could not be reached for comment. Fix, whose last known address was in Rochester, New York, didn’t respond to calls.

Navy officials said the documents viewed by USA TODAY represent only the most severe instances of white supremacy investigated in the ranks. Most incidents are dealt with internally rather than being formally investigated, according to military law experts and service members. That means there’s no paper trail.

The military doesn’t track how many people are removed for extremist activity, but there are signs that incidents of white supremacy are rising among troops, reflecting a surge in hate crimes among the general population.

More than a third of active-duty military personnel reported seeing white supremacist or ideologically driven racism while on duty, according to a 2019 survey by the Military Times. It’s higher for nonwhite members of the military. The 36% of respondents who reported seeing white supremacist or racist ideologies on display was up from 22% in 2018.

“As a country, we haven’t decided that white supremacy is something that we really want to acknowledge, let alone address in a major way,” said Sarah Vinson, a forensic psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Morehouse School of Medicine.

If the military truly wants to ferret out white supremacy, she said, transparency and consequences are critical. “If you allow things to go unchecked, they don’t magically get better and go away — they escalate.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it suggests some serious problems within the US military and the US itself, problems the US is trying to ignore.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2021 at 1:35 pm

“I Needed a Job. He Asked If I Was Proposing Marriage.”

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The creepiness and moral turpitude of Donald Trump and his administration have far-reaching ripple effects. Deboarh Kopaken provides examples in the Atlantic:

I was 8 when Patty Hearst was kidnapped. For several years, I was afraid to sit in a well-lit room after sundown, because I was next on the kidnappers’ list, and they were lurking in my backyard. I was sure of this.

Was my fear justified? Of course not. Was it real? One hundred percent yes.

Bill Clinton pardoned Hearst on his last day in office. When I heard the news, I cheered. The woman had been kidnapped at 19, raped, and held in a dark closet for 57 days, after which, suffering from Stockholm syndrome, she robbed a bank with her captors. Pardoning her seemed not only fair, but just.

Exactly 20 years later, on his last day in office, Donald Trump pardoned Ken Kurson. When I read the news, I cursed. This pardon was neither fair nor just.

Kurson was the editor of the Observer when it was owned by his friend Jared Kushner. Last fall, Kurson was arrested and charged with cyberstalking three people and harassing two others. According to the federal complaint, Kurson posted multiple malicious professional reviews of a former friend he spuriously blamed for the end of his marriage. He used an alias to send the friend’s colleagues and others threatening emails accusing her of sleeping with her boss, then stalked her at her workplace until her employers were forced to hire a security firm to protect her. His lawyer argued in a statement that the charges were overblown, and he was pardoned before the case went to trial.

After Kurson’s arrest, I kept scanning the news, hoping that Trump would be too busy being a sore loser and inciting insurrection to pardon Kurson. I was wrong. Which meant I would now spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder.

From November 2014 to late 2016, Ken Kurson sexually harassed me. I wrote about the degrading experience for this magazine in 2018. I composed the essay in the form of a tongue-in-cheek listicle (“How to Lose Your Job From Sexual Harassment in 33 Easy Steps”), because all too often, as we keep learning (and learning and learning), sexual harassment is not just one event or off-color comment, nor is it just the suggestive emails that followed: “In another life, I’d be Mr. Copaken”; “I love your sloppy seconds”; “Are you proposing marriage to me?” It’s a systematic abuse of power that can deny its victims work, money, and health insurance.

Kurson invited me to lunch after one of my stories for another publication went viral, and said he had a full-time job for me with benefits. I told my current boss I was quitting, only for Kurson to say that it was never an actual job offer, and that he couldn’t match my salary. But he dangled the possibility of a full-time position if I kept freelancing for him, while sending me wildly inappropriate emails about his crumbling marriage. I worried that he might be vengeful. “I consider this the Observer’s story,” he once wrote about one of my article pitches, “and you know I come from a grudge-holding desert people.”

I thought he was joking, but after that story was published in The New York Times, he stopped answering my emails for more than a month. Later, when I asked about a late payment for an article, he replied to say the money had finally been deposited in my account, adding, “Sorry you’re broke… Are you in love w anyone?”

(When The Atlantic asked Kurson for comment, he denied that there had been a job offer. About the emails, he said, “All of us have used language in the past that we now wish had been more artful,” adding, “I try my best to treat everyone I meet with kindness and respect.”)

At the time, I was a solo mother of three––two of them in college. With crushing tuition bills, an expensive cascade of illnesses requiring surgeries, and an empty bank account, I’d had to move to cheaper digs and nab the first full-time job with benefits I could find, as a flack for the pharmaceutical industry. This, along with ageism and a shrinking media industry, has derailed my journalism career to this day.

Following the publication of my story in The Atlantic in 2018, I was not surprised to be inundated with similar tales of woe. I was surprised by the number of tales featuring the same antagonist. I created a spreadsheet to organize them. Here are some excerpts:

“Ken was a creep to me, condescending as well … ”

“Your frightening experience with him gave me flashbacks … The way he spoke to me haunts me to this day … Drag the ogre into the daylight.”

“I woke up to your article about Ken Kurson. I had an insane, if not criminal, experience with him that I’d love to talk to you about.”

This last one was chilling. It came from a woman who knew one of the people Kurson was later charged with cyberstalking, and said she had received threatening emails from Kurson herself. When I called her, she recounted both stories of harassment. The behavior she described did indeed sound criminal. And vindictive. I shared it with Jesse Drucker, an investigative journalist at the Times. “Jesse, I need help,” I said. “I want to help this woman, but I feel like I’m out of my league.”

I forwarded him my spreadsheet, with the obvious caveat not to share it further. Then, just as Drucker started looking into each allegation, Trump nominated Kurson to the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Because of course this happened.

Drucker’s story, “The Trump Administration Considers an Old Friend: Ken Kurson,” appeared on May 11. “Concerning Ms. Copaken’s account, Mr. Kurson said, ‘I categorically deny any claim of inappropriate behavior.’”

In response to his denial, I posted a Twitter thread presenting some of the written evidence, email by creepy email.

At the end of the thread, I wrote the following: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and the FBI gets involved.

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2021 at 5:36 pm

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